War in the Middle East is spurring violence against Muslim and Jewish communities around the world.
Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year old Palestinian-American boy, was fatally stabbed over the weekend in Plainfield Township, Illinois. The boy’s mother was also critically injured in the attack by their landlord, with local officials confirming that the pair were “targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.” The attack is being investigated as a hate crime.
Following the death, Palestinian and Muslim leaders condemned media coverage of the war and Palestinian people.
“Let’s be clear: This was directly connected to the dehumanizing of Palestinians that has been allowed over the last week by our media, by our elected officials who have lacked the moral compass and lacked the courage to call for something as simple as de-escalation and peace,” said Illinois State Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, the first Palestinian American elected to the state’s general assembly.
“[Wadea] loved everybody,” said Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s executive director, during a news conference. “He has no clue about these larger issues happening in the world, but he was made to pay for it.”
Police across the U.S. have been on high alert for threats against Muslim and Jewish communities since Hamas’ surprise attack on October 7. The FBI has reported an uptick in threats against Muslim and Jewish communities during a call with reporters, though the bureau declined to provide specific numbers. FBI director Christopher Wray said that the war could inspire violence in the U.S., according to the New York Times.
Across the globe, geopolitical conflict often leads to a rise in hate against impacted communities on a local level, experts tell TIME. “When you have a conflict like this, we almost always see a rise in incidents against the communities that are involved in the conflict,” says Wendy Via, co-founder the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “People see it on the news and it’s sort of the proof they needed to harbor their hatred and act on it.”
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In the United States, advocacy groups have reported an increase in threats of violence and harassment against Palestinian, Jewish, and Muslim communities.
Local chapters of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, have reported instances of Islamophobia in the days since the beginning of the war, including two alleged assaults in Brooklyn, NY and an individual who pointed a gun at a crowd of pro-Palestine demonstrators outside of Pennsylvania’s state capitol.
And in New Jersey, Rania Mustafa, Executive Director of the Palestinian American Community Center, told ABC7 New York that many in her community have recently faced a wave of increased harassment.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has been tracking instances of antisemitism in the U.S. since 1979, reported over 100 antisemitic incidents in the United States since October 7, including assaults in San Diego, Ca and New York City. A 19-year-old was charged with a hate crime after he allegedly attacked a Columbia University student who was hanging up posters on campus in support of Israel.
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It’s impossible to know the exact number of incidents that have taken place in the United States in the past week. Hate crimes in the country are often vastly undercounted, as legal definitions vary by state and police officers often lack training on how to identify hate crimes. (About 88% of cities don’t report hate crime data at all, according to Axios.)
Further still, hateful actions—like vandalism of a place of worship or derogatory signs— can be difficult to track, and might go unreported all together, says Via, who notes that they still pose a harm to the targeted communities.
“It’s just not possible to count or to get an accurate recording of all of those types of incidents that have surely shot up,” says Via. “It’s meant to intimidate and instill fear and to silence those communities.”
A ultra-Orthodox Jew walks past a synagogue in north London on October 13, 2023. The U.K. government announced Thursday £3 million ($3.7 million) of extra funding to help protect the Jewish community from antisemitic attacks, after a reported 400 percent spike in incidents.Daniel Leal—AFP/Getty Images
Hate crimes have been on the rise outside of the U.S. as well. On October 13, London’s Metropolitan police reported a significant rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks. French interior minister Gérald Darmanin shared that more than 20 people have been arrested in connection with antisemitic incidents in recent days.
According to data collected by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, the platform 4chan—the anonymous, unregulated online messaging forum—saw a 479% increase in the use of explicit antisemitic and anti-Muslim slurs, along with calls to kill both groups between October 6 and October 8.
Via says that unregulated, hateful content online can translate to a real risk offline as well. “If a person is inclined to be violent, it leads them there, as opposed to our systems being set up to stop it,” says Via.
Both X (formerly Twitter) and Meta have faced pressure from the E.U. to better combat disinformation related to the war on their platforms, but Via says that they must enforce stricter moderation to prevent the spread of hate online.
Recent years have seen a harmful normalization of hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric, says Via.
“The ruling factions in the Middle East are committing these acts, not the people. And that’s a distinction that more people with megaphones should be making, very forcefully and very loudly.”